Wall Street’s crisis shows need for Fair Elections

Make no mistake about it, we face an economic crisis of enormous proportions. But the rush to bail out Wall Street firms with a “hair on fire” urgency rings so hollow when you consider how much the American people have already gone through. Millions of people have lost their homes to foreclosures. Many are being forced onto the streets, as tent cities are popping up in major cities. But nothing happened to fix the sub-prime mess, brewing for two years now, until Wall Street had a cash-flow problem.

The biggest problem seems to be that the government is now moving, not because they are inclined to make public policy for the good of the American people, but because their campaign donors have asked them to. You can see campaign finance’s fingers in the presidential race as well, as Wall Street donors dominate the upper echelons of each candidates’ major fundraisers and both candidates flounder and walk the thin line between offending their donors and offering real leadership.

As a seeming palliative to the financial crisis, the House introduced yesterday HR 7022, the Fair Elections Now Act, “To reform the financing of House elections, and for other purposes.” This bill would provide full optional public financing for congressional elections. It’s companion bill in the Senate has been mired in Congressional inaction. We can see how quickly Congress can act when it wants to, as evidence by the energy they’ve put into the bailout. But why do we wait until problems reach a crisis level? Do we need to wait until the entire system becomes so corrupt that no action is even possible and the people are never listened to over the voice of the powerful and monied? (Or have we reached that point already?)

Andy Posner has asked why we can’t put the same kinds of resources into a green energy future that we will into a bailout– do we have to wait for a climate crisis? (It’s here, you just don’t know it yet) Likewise, why can’t we put a relatively small amount of money compared to this bailout into publicly financing our elections? Why is it when campaign donors need help can we act quickly and deftly (and even recklessly) but when it’s for a good cause with no financial backing we’re told we need to go look under the couch cushions to scrimp some change? We can always find ways to pay for more pork, more Bridges to Nowhere, but we can’t afford the very thing that will insure that these kinds of unnecessary, wasteful spending don’t happen and our public officials are not being corrupted by the influence of their campaign donations.

To try to compete with the din of special interest monies behind this bailout, Public Citizen today called on Congress to put Americans, not Wall Street, first, in any legislation. Any plan should include caps on interest rates, re-regulation, and greater accountability. Finally, we need to make sure that this never happens again. We can insure the sanctity of our elections and public trust by supporting Fair Elections NOW!